Category Archives: avatars

Send in the other you

Over at Businessweek, I predicted that someday soon you’ll have an Eternity App — a digital doppelgänger clone of you who will carry on conversations long after you’re gone, or potentially even replace you in the office. All of the technology to make this possible now exists, between voice recognition software input that can “listen” to questions, Siri-type artificial intelligence simulation output which can “speak” like a human, and data sets of your personality.

Where would the data come from to replicate you? Well, here:

Spend a few years using social media, and you’ll upload thousands of tidbits—each encoding your opinions, politics, wit, charm, clients, reviews, work accomplishments, debates, dumb jokes, frustration, and anger. The essential “data” of you has been captured. And what of your personality and relationships? Sentiment monitoring services, such as AC Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Lithium, and Radian6, already parse the tone and intent of conversations; Klout and Quora track your supposed influence; FriendorFollow and Twiangulate monitor your connections with others; LinkedIn knows your job skills. Facebook uses sophisticated face recognition software to help tag photos of your friends.

Nearly everything that makes up your human world is online, ready for data mining.

As I wrote this, I initially thought of the immortality angle — the ability to have my persona “live” forever, write columns, call home, offer advice to my children after I’m gone. But my editor at Bloomberg was most keenly interested in the social repercussions of using it today. After all, if you can clone yourself, why not send yourself in to work? Off to that client meeting?

Play this through, and it could become very dicey. Your virtual you would emulate your voice, image (with 3D projections coming soon), and mind (from your social media data set) — but it could also improve upon yourself. My new “mind” could tap into databases of every marketing solution ever known, so the New Ben Kunz in a client meeting would offer more-brilliant suggestions than plain old me. Your clone might learn wit, charm, or tantric sex advice to woo your spouse better than you. The new you would be more fun at parties, more knowledgeable in debates, savvier at investments, a better parent for your children. It would also likely be better looking; just as we post Twitter avatars showing ourselves in good lighting, we’d be tempted to add a tan or whiten the teeth of our digital double.

You are going to be so hot.

Except it won’t be you. The intersection of voice recognition and AI simulation means robotic avatars who mirror your being will be much better at, well, everything. You could take a nice vacation while the version of you goes off to run the world. The question is, will the other you want you around?

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Alphadesigner

Avatars and partial anonymity

Back in May 1996 when the Web was just getting out of its diapers social scientist John Suler wrote of a new thing called “avatars” — little pictures online users were posting in chat communities to represent themselves. His observation was that the graphics — which could be faces, or bodies, or ASCII smileys — enabled a form of half-anonymity, in which who you are is protected and yet you feel free to express anything. The Id was unleashed, because the Ego paid no consequence.

Suler’s most brilliant insight was that, even then with lousy graphics, user avatars fit nicely with well-known personality types including:

narcissistic = themes of power and perfection
schizoid = revealing detachment and indifference, perhaps combined with intellectualism
manic = energetic and impulsive
histrionic = attention-seeking and seductive

We haven’t evolved beyond this in 15 years. My avatar pics, upon reflection, tend to be schizoid, detached and intellectual, meaning I’m trying to look smart (or just think I look goofy when I’m smiling in real-life action as seen above). Narcissism runs rampant with many users posting avatars of perfect smiles, as if they just got laid, or histrionic with pouting lips and an iPhone visible in the mirror frame.

This protect-oneself-by-avatar-control psychology could explain why social media, with its rather antiquated focus on text typing beside a single photo, is so much more popular than video-conferencing — which is now technically simple and free but has yet to go mainstream as a major daily habit. We create avatars for ourselves because we want the freedom to reveal anything while controlling how much of our souls we expose. Wii dancing, for instance, will never make it to my G+ avatar box.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Originally posted on Google+.

Why money is fiction, and why avatars may fade away

Take a dollar bill out of your pocket and look at it. It’s really not worth anything. Just a fancy piece of paper. Money used to be something valuable, like Greek copper coins (useful for making weapons) or Roman salt (the root of salary). And then in the 1700s the son of a Scottish banker, John Law, convinced the Bank of France to start printing money on paper. (Law created an inflationary bubble that almost destroyed the country, but that’s another story.)

The point is much of society is fiction, but a fiction we all agree to believe in. Our bank accounts have numbers and zeros, but that money doesn’t really exist. There is about $820 billion in U.S. coins and paper in circulation, which sounds like a lot until you realize our GDP — the value of all goods and services — is $13.1 trillion. That’s right; there’s enough money in pockets to cover about 6.2% of our total “money,” and the rest is just ones and zeros in a bank computer.

Ah, but we Americans believe in fiction. Many of us spend days at work reading, typing, and debating over concepts in Word and Excel that float to other people typing elsewhere. No goods change hands, but we all agree we’re providing value and so get paid … with fictional numbers.

The Internet may represent the ultimate expansion of this fiction. People today are immersed in screens and present avatars to each other that show only a peek of who we really are. This blog is the intellectual side of a writer, but only that. Your LinkedIn page is a resume, and your Facebook is a scrapbook showing the pieces of you that you select.

We’re curious as to where this is going. Perhaps the rise of video and wireless and unlimited free communications will force humans to show their real faces, as we all see each other completely in real time, meeting like Adam and Eve in the woods.

Hope we recognize each other when we get there.